Maybe you first saw Raiders of the Lost Ark in a movie theater back in the summer of 1981. Maybe you only caught up with it last week on DVD. But whatever your my-first-time story might be, you’re likely fond of the character of Marion Ravenwood, the feisty, right-out-of-a-Howard-Hawks-movie heroine played by Karen Allen. She and Harrison Ford defined on-screen chemistry (their ship-board kiss scene, their bantering arguments). Now, 27 summers later, Allen is back playing the same role in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. And like that guest at the reunion party who looks nearly unchanged, Allen still radiates the same qualities onscreen: She’s outspoken, independent, and utterly charming. We caught up with the actress for a chat about getting back in adventure-movie mode.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So how far back did you find out, Okay, there’s finally going to be a new Indy movie?
KAREN ALLEN: There’d been this rumor mill for many years. I’d say it goes back eight years or so, about the fact that they were trying to write a script for a fourth film. And from time to time, I’d get e-mails and phone calls. Not from Steven [Spielberg] or George [Lucas] or anybody really connected with the project, but from various friends and acquaintances — little reports of all these different writers that were working on it. And then nothing would happen. Honestly, I think for the last couple of years, it hadn’t even crossed my mind.
So when did Crystal Skull finally become a ”go” for you?
The phone just rang in January of 2007. A friend of mine actually picked up the phone and said, ”Karen — it’s Steven Spielberg’s office on the phone for you.” And I thought, Oh, it’s a friend of mine being silly. Somebody playing a joke. So I went to the phone and Steven said, ”Hi! I’ll bet you know why I’m calling.” And I said, ”No, I don’t.” And he said, ”Haven’t you been watching television?” And I said, ”No, guess I haven’t.” He said, ”It’s been announced! We’re gonna make Indiana Jones 4! And guess what? You’re in it.”
How did you react?
I was actually kind of jumping up and down in place. And then a couple weeks later, he invited me to come into New York and read the script, which I was delighted to do. I really didn’t know what kind of role they’d written for me. I didn’t know if it was a little cameo. But it turned out it was really just a lovely role they had written — a nice, big, wonderful part. And then when I began to hear who else he was interested in casting in the film, in the other roles, it just got more and more and more exciting.
What were the circumstances of the first reading?
I arrived at Steven’s apartment in New York and his assistant was there, and gave me the script, and told me that Steven would be there in a couple of hours kind of around the time I was gonna finish it. In fact, he came in sort of when I was in the middle of it. He came over and said hi and said, ”Nonono — don’t stop reading! Keep going!” So I sat there till I finished reading and then found him in the apartment and said, ”Wow — this is fantastic.” I was pretty blown away by it, I have to say.
NEXT PAGE: ”For years, people have said to me, ‘Why weren’t you in the other two films?”’
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did you want to get on the phone and tell the world, ”I’m back”?
KAREN ALLEN: The hardest thing for me was, when [Steven] first asked me to do the film, he asked me not to tell anyone at all. Like, not a soul. And six months went by and he still didn’t want me to tell anybody. Obviously, I had to tell my son and a few close friends and colleagues, because, y’know, I was leaving for four months, and they were gonna wonder where I was!
And the news never leaked before they announced it officially at Comic-Con, in July 2007?
I think there were little tiny rumors out there, but it certainly seemed to come as a big surprise to most people…. The secrecy thing has gotten to be more and more prevalent in films, and maybe that’s good. It’s nice to go see a film and not know anything about it. Sometimes I feel like we know too much about films.
I understand it was Frank Darabont who initially pushed for the character of Marion to come back.
That’s what Steven told me. Steven said that he was having a conversation with Frank — whom I’ve never met, but I guess I owe a huge debt of thanks to — and Steven said something [to Frank] about, ”Who should we think of in terms of the love interest for Indy?” And Frank said something like, ”Are you kidding? It can’t be anybody but Karen Allen playing Marion Ravenwood.” And Steven said he took a moment and thought, Yeah, I guess you’re right!
Eventually David Koepp wrote the script that got greenlit. He said he did all his work on the final drafts of Crystal Skull not knowing if you’d say yes to the role!
I thought that was kind of amazing. When I read it, I thought, They’ve written this for ME!
What if you’d said no?
[Laughs heartily] Oh, yeah, like anybody thought I would say no…. I would have been a complete and total fool to say no to this.
Did you ever consider returning years ago, in the second Indy movie, which eventually became Temple of Doom?
For years, people have said to me, ”Why weren’t you in the other two films?” [But] when they first asked me to do Raiders of the Lost Ark, they said, ”We’re gonna do three, and they’re gonna go backwards in time, so your character will be only in the first one.”
Well, but then the third film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, wound up being set in 1938 — so they only went backwards for Temple of Doom.
Really? I always thought all three of them went backwards in time! Well…if that’s true, then Indy had a romance with this other character [Ilsa, played by Alison Doody] after he met back up with Marion [in Raiders]. I’m getting jealous on my character’s behalf, as we speak! I always thought she was before me…
Trust me — Ilsa came after Marion.
All right. Well, I’ll try not to hold that against Harrison. [Laughter]
How was it, then, reuniting with Harrison and Steven?
I think in film I’ve never worked with the same director twice. I’ve done that in the theater a number of times. And I don’t think I’ve ever had the same leading man twice. So there’s something so liberating about working with people you already have a relationship with.
NEXT PAGE: ”There’s a lot of really extraordinary actresses my age, and there just aren’t enough interesting roles to go around. I often very much bemoan the fact that there are so many of my peers who I never see any more in films. And I include myself in that list.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was it like being on-set again with all of them?
KAREN ALLEN: Because the first film has been so celebrated, it feels like you’re coming home. And I have to say, Steven was just so welcoming to me, in the sense of making me feel as though they were so incredibly delighted to have me back in the fold. It just felt so joyous. ”We get to do this again!” The first day I was shooting with Harrison, we were given a particularly challenging bit of business to do on a moving truck. The truck is kind of ambling along and we’re trying to throw ourselves through this little opening, and we can’t help but slam elbows into hard metal and kneecaps into hard metal. We were just like, ”Aaaaaaah,” y’know? We’re putting on pads and hoping we hit the pads instead of hitting some bruisable part of our bodies. I just remember, the very first day, kind of looking up at him. I was so glad I was there and so glad I was working with him again. It felt even better than the first time. Because I felt more at ease with myself, and he seemed more at ease and happy…. But it’s true with Steven too. Steven, I felt, was so much more relaxed, and so much more enjoying the day to day of being there on the set. I think the first time around, it was all a little intense.
[On Raiders] I’d never done a film of that nature before. Coming out of doing theater and a handful of smaller relationship-type films, I didn’t know anything about being on big sets like this and doing action sequences, where you’d spend an entire week, day after day after day, looking up and screaming with dirt falling into your eyes and up your nose and into your mouth. I found myself sometimes thinking, What am I doing? What kind of acting is this? I really didn’t have a place where I felt very secure, that I knew what I was doing…. Harrison came into it having done the two Star Wars films [up to that point], so he had some experience in this area. But I was really a duck out of water.
How does it feel to have so much attention from fans now?
Everybody here [in the western Massachusetts town where she lives] knows me, and has known me for a long time. So the kind of attention I’d love, of course, is people being interested in asking me to do other films. At my age, because I’m in my 50s, the roles are just few and far between. And I come from a generation of wonderful actresses. There’s a lot of really extraordinary actresses my age, and there just aren’t enough interesting roles to go around. I often very much bemoan the fact that there are so many of my peers who I never see any more in films. And I include myself in that list.
Did you make a conscious decision to leave L.A., or did it just sort of happen?
Once my son was born in 1990, it really became a huge choice to choose to go off to do a film. That put him in a situation where for 12 hours or 14 hours a day, he was going to have to be with a babysitter, off the set somewhere. They end up being these life choices, and you don’t realize how complicated they can be until they’re upon you. My son was born somewhat late in my life and I just found myself really feeling like I didn’t want to miss out on being a parent and being with him, and not wanting a situation where I was constantly pulled back and forth between being present, and having all these other pressures and considerations. And I imagine that was happening at the same time that the kind of really exciting, interesting roles started kind of simultaneously falling away, or going to younger actors. So it didn’t feel like I was saying no to fantastic things. It just felt like it was kind of a natural time to put my focus elsewhere.